The Feh Pass is worse than a “meh” pass.
Fire Emblem Heroes was once the darling of the mobile gacha genre, but it has long since turned into a prolonged exercise in testing the fortitude of its player base. Case in point: after roughly a year of community unrest about the game’s rapid power creep and diminishing rewards, Fire Emblem Heroes debuted its brand new Youtube channel with the announcement of a new in-game subscription service.
For $9.49 per month, the “Feh Pass” gives players access to bonus quests with high-end rewards, new character skins for existing units that grant permanent stat boosts, and gameplay features such as playing quests on auto-repeat and rewinding to previous turns in combat. The community outrage has been explosive: as of writing, the debut video sits at a 71% dislike ratio. Yet while much of the hate for this new subscription pass is completely valid, it’s truthfully more insidious than many of us are giving it (dis)credit for. Let’s dive into why.
It’s money for quality-of-life features.
This is the most common complaint against the Feh Pass, but it’s not just paywalling quality-of-life features: it’s paywalling features that are standard in competing gacha games.
Auto-repeatable quests? Not only a feature in Dragalia Lost, but Brown Dust lets you auto-repeat quests in the background while you play. Rewinding to past turns? Functionally a non-issue in games like Arknights that minimize penalties for losing (rewinding is also offered as a paid subscription in Langrisser M, to be fair… for 99 cents). Even the flashy “resplendent heroes” upgrades are analogous to ability awakenings in Brave Exvius, except Exvius actually offers better upgrades that can be obtained with regular play. And when a game already infamous for scummy business practices like Exvius looks generous by comparison, that’s low.
All of that is just off the top of my head.
If Fire Emblem Heroes functionally offered a battle pass on top of some skins for a subscription price, I’d say it’s not worth getting too angry about. I wouldn’t be a fan, but hey, free-to-play games are always selling something. But the Feh Pass isn’t just a gross exercise in a company trying to charge money for basic features; it fundamentally undercuts what a subscription service for a game should even be.
Who a subscription service is for.
Believe it or not, I like monthly subscription packs in free-to-play/gacha games. I even recommended them to low-spenders in the Gacha Game Survival Guide. That’s because of the operative phrase in that sentence: low spenders.
For an example of a good subscription service, let’s loop around to Arknights again. For the more accessible cost of $4.99 per month, the subscription dishes out enough gacha currency for a 10-pull, extra stamina refreshes every day, and a little bonus premium currency that can be used on more pulls or buying character skins. On one hand, the subscription offers a ton of relative value when considering a 10-pull in a gacha game is usually around $15-$20. On the other hand, you don’t miss anything by forgoing the subscription either. Free-to-player players still earn these rewards in decent measure by playing the game, the subscription just gives you more of it.
It’s well documented that mobile games make the majority of their income through whales. But cheap monthly packs are more than a good way to get extra dollars from a different demographic: they’re a gesture that shows the developers value low spenders as well. And by keeping the majority of features accessible in some fashion for everyone, it shows the company values non-spenders too.
A free-to-play game needs to cater to all levels of spenders to survive, and services like the Feh Pass clearly target people who already spend in Fire Emblem Heroes. Virtually no new players will spend money to get features that are freely available in newer, flashier titles, so Heroes instead exploits its core fan base who are unlikely to leave out of sunk cost fallacy. And frankly, it’s upsetting to see a game as successful as Fire Emblem Heroes refuse to grab new players in lieu of further monetizing its audience.
The troubling trend with Nintendo’s mobile titles.
Despite all I’ve said about the Feh Pass, I don’t care that much about Fire Emblem Heroes. I mean I play it here and there, but I stopped being invested in my account once the powercreep got crazy. The thing is, Fire Emblem Heroes is the third Nintendo IP to lock basic features behind a subscription. Mario Kart Tour locks the series’ staple 200 CC cup behind a subscription, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has two different subscriptions that contain basic features. This is a problem.
I get that it’s hard to be outraged by monetization in gacha games when the fundamental model is already gambling in every sense but the legal one. But at least players generally know what a gacha game is before they get into one. The whole appeal of a “free-to-play friendly” gacha game is the promise that you can get any hero you want with enough planning and saving. You won’t get every hero, of course, but selectively hoarding your gacha currency for the right moment is the meta of playing a gacha game for free. It’s the smug satisfaction of getting something or beating content that other people had to pay for, and that instills a… dare I say it, sense of pride and accomplishment.
This isn’t a defense of gacha mechanics, but it is a roundabout way of arguing that paywalling standard features is actually less defensible. And unfortunately, it points to a trend that a game should only be generous until it picks up enough whales to exploit indefinitely. It’s a trend can just as easily pop up in full priced games as it can in mobile games, and that’s why it’s worth pushing back against the Feh Pass.
While I normally roll my eyes at “movements” like Dexit, I sincerely hope that the dislike bar on the Feh Pass’ debut video continues to grow. And considering the similarities Feh Pass has to the notorious “costume gate” incident, there’s precedent for the gacha community to keep the heat on. But even if the Feh Pass is completely redesigned to fix the complaints, never forget the industry’s attempts to push its greed despite offering little in return.
And most importantly, remember to spend your time and money wisely on video games that bring you genuine joy. If you still enjoy Fire Emblem Heroes despite the Feh Pass, then more power to you. If the Feh Pass makes you too angry to play the game, then moving on to another title sends a message too. We can’t guarantee that developers will treat you with respect, but you should treat yourself with respect. If that’s the only thing you take away from this controversy, then at least some good came out of it after all.